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Each year in Ohio, an average of 25,000 children are abused and neglected. Fortunately for those served by The Village Network, a non-profit behavioral healthcare provider that specializes in treatment of trauma, there is an innovative new tool to help these youth overcome their crisis and begin to heal.

By utilizing Sensory Integration Rooms, the youth served by The Village Network have a place where they can go to calm down and self-regulate if they’re feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated or anxious.

The first of the Sensory Integration Rooms was constructed on The Village Network’s Wooster Residential Campus at the newly developed Therapeutic Stabilization Center, which provides short-term mental health services for youth in crisis.

“When infants and young children experience abuse, neglect, chronic chaos, and stress, the lower regions of the brain may develop in a way that compromises the brain’s ability integrate sensory input appropriately,” says Dave Paxton, The Village Network’s Chief Clinical Officer. “The results are children who are hypersensitive to normal sensory stimulation and become overwhelmed.”

Paxton further explains, “When children are in crisis, they are easily overstimulated. When they’re overstimulated, they can’t process their thoughts correctly or manage their emotions. To help a traumatized youth, we first need to support them in calming down, strengthening and organizing the lower parts of the brain, particularly the brainstem. This is where the Sensory Integration Room comes into play. Then we can begin the in-depth work of healing from their crisis.”

To accomplish this goal, the Sensory Integration Room includes soundproof walls to block out any external noise, a hammock for youth to lie down and be cradled in, a soothing beach mural on the wall, a soft sofa and various textured chairs, interactive bubble tube, color-changing light panels, a simulated skylight, a speaker system for relaxing sounds or music, massage chair, aromatherapy items, fidget toys, and weighted blankets.

Informed by an assessment of the youth, specially-trained therapists work with children to explore the various “tools” in the room.  Although therapy might look like a game, every activity was carefully selected for their healing properties and with the goal of helping the children to achieve self-organization.

“At The Village Network, we’ve been fortunate enough to work with Dr. Bruce Perry and the Child Trauma Academy to implement the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics,” adds Paxton. “We utilized insight from NMT to help develop the Sensory Integration Room and determine which tools will best help the youth we serve.”

Ultimately, the development of the Sensory Integration Room was truly a team effort.

“I would like to thank Stephen and Cheryl Shapiro for their continued support of the youth served by The Village Network and for their very generous donation to make the Sensory Integration Room in Wooster a reality,” says Richard Graziano, President and CEO.  “We are also incredibly grateful for the partnership of Schumacher Homes in developing and constructing this much-needed resource for our youth.”

And the results from the team effort are paying off. Clinicians that have worked with youth in the Sensory Integration Room have witnessed remarkable results.  One youth recovering from a crisis remarked, “The Sensory Integration Room helped me a lot.  I have never experienced such a peaceful and calming environment.  It is truly amazing and something that all kids in trauma can benefit from.”   

After witnessing the incredible outcomes from youth utilizing the room in Wooster, a second Sensory Integration Room was developed at The Village Network’s Bethesda Residential Campus in Southeast Ohio. Although slightly smaller in scale, the Bethesda Sensory Integration Room contains many of the same therapeutic elements as the room in Wooster, including aromatherapy, textured chairs, weighted blankets, a bubble machine, specialized lighting and fidget toys. It also contains some unique features, including textured and waterfall walls, a small trampoline, tents, weighted teddy bears and life-like stuffed animals.

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